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Economic Value of an Urban Forest: $80 billion

Posted in Models, Research, Tools by Kate Archdeacon on March 22nd, 2012

Photo by Mike_tn via flickr CC

From “Environmental contribution of Tennessee’s urban trees: $80 billion”  by James Holloway:

A study published by the US Forest service values the State of Tennessee’s urban forest at $80 billion thanks to its contributions to the environment. With an urban population of 284 million, that equates to a mean value of $282 per tree.

The total is based on a number of costs that are to some extent offset by the presence of Tennessee’s urban forest (its urban tree population, in other words). These include $350 million-worth of carbon storage based on the current standing stock, over $204 million every year in pollution removal, $18.4 million per year in additional carbon sequestration, and $66 million per year in energy savings-“the most significant contribution” made by the urban forest, according to State Forester Steven G. Scott. But how are the environmental benefits of the trees evaluated?

Data was collected and analyzed using the Forest Service’s own i-Tree Eco software. Using a mobile app providing strict protocols for data collection, researchers took information from 2418 trees and saplings across 255 field plots. Variables noted include species, diameter at breast height (or DBH—taken at 1.4 meters above ground), height, crown dimensions, foliage transparency, damage, and proximity to buildings. The pool of sample data is assumed to be representative of the total population, and from there the software crunches the numbers using “peer-reviewed equations” to paint a macro-scale picture of the urban forest, based on quantifiable characteristics that describe its structure, condition and function.

>>Read the full article by James Holloway on Ars Technica.
>>Read the US Forest Service study.

Restructuring the World Energy Economy

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on May 10th, 2011

Source: EcoBuddhism

Image: Hepburn Wind via flickr CC

From Let No Man Say It Cannot Be Done by Lester Brown:

We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the Earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the scale and urgency of the changes we need to make, I re-read the economic history of U.S. involvement in World War II because it is such an inspiring study in rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement in the war and responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S. engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to victory within three-and-a-half years. In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, and several thousand ships. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.” No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. Public skepticism abounded. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.[…]

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory switched to the production of machine guns. A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company turned out compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant made armor-piercing shells.[…]

The point is that it did not take decades to restructure the U.S. industrial economy. It did not take years. It was done in a matter of months. If we could restructure the U.S. industrial economy in months, then we can restructure the world energy economy during this decade. With numerous U.S. automobile assembly lines currently idled, it would be a relatively simple matter to retool some of them to produce wind turbines, as the Ford Motor Company did in World War II with B-24 bombers, helping the world to quickly harness its vast wind energy resources. This would help the world see that the economy can be restructured quickly, profitably, and in a way that enhances global security. […]

One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

Inform yourself. Read about the issues. Pick an issue that’s meaningful to you, such as tax restructuring to create an honest market, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or developing a world class-recycling system in your community. Or join a group that is working to provide family planning services to the 215 million women who want to plan their families but lack the means to do so. You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern. You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on. Once your group is informed and has a clearly defined goal, ask to meet with your elected representatives on the city council or the state or national legislature. Write or e-mail your elected representatives about the need to restructure taxes and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Remind them that leaving environmental costs off the books may offer a sense of prosperity in the short run, but it leads to collapse in the long run.[…]

Read the full article by Lester Brown on the EcoBuddhism site.

Banking on Biodiversity: Joined-up Thinking at its Most Urgent

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on February 4th, 2011

Source: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

Banking on biodiversity by Dilys Roe, Pavan Sukhdev, David Thomas and Robert Munroe

We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. For those of us in the North, that can seem abstract; for the rural poor in the developing world, it’s all too real. Their absolute dependence on the bounty of forests, deserts and coasts means ‘biodiversity loss’ can mean losing all: food, fuel, building material, medicine, forage, livelihoods and culture. The good news is that it can work the other way. Poor communities, as long-term stewards of the South’s natural riches, are steeped in profound knowledge about them. As this pocketbook shows, working with them can reverse the downward spiral of environmental degradation. By banking on biodiversity, we can protect our natural legacy while tackling poverty locally, nationally and globally.

New wealth of nations: biodiversity and poor economies

Take a forest in rural India. Local villagers graze their livestock, gather fuelwood, fruit and medicinal bark, and hunt for honey. The trees help prevent drought and flood damage by drawing up groundwater and anchoring soils with their roots. Most, if not all, of such direct and indirect ‘flows’ of value into rural or forest-dependent households are public goods and services — received free from wild nature, and not priced or traded in any markets. Because of this, ‘ecosystem services’ are economically invisible. And they do not generally figure in the national accounts that measure a country’s economic activity. Does this matter? Yes. We cannot manage what we do not measure, and economic invisibility is not a good starting point for ensuring that ecosystem services thrive. We risk depleting them because of tradeoffs such as replacing forests with cultivated crops. Putting a value on nature and factoring that into national accounting can help governments and business wake up to the fact that healthy economies rest on healthy ecosystems — as do the wellbeing and livelihoods of the poorest of the rural poor.

Chapter 3, Big ideas in development: Banking on biodiversity

Visit the site to download the free PDF.

The Economics of Happiness: Film

Posted in Models, Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on January 31st, 2011

Source: PostCarbon Institute

The Economics of Happiness is a project of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC).

“Going local” is a powerful strategy to help repair our fractured world—our ecosystems, our societies and our selves. A central paradox defines our time: although the economy is growing, we are working longer and longer hours and our new comforts and luxuries have not brought us happiness. While the ever-expanding global economy is creating immense wealth for the few, it is leaving the majority worse off. Climate change, unstable financial markets, growing inequality, senseless war, fundamentalism: people know something is fundamentally wrong. Across the world they are coming together in the spirit of resistance and renewal. A movement is growing to re-create more just and sustainable communities and re-invent economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of happiness.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions: while government and Big Business push for a globalized economy based on high technology and increased trade, people all over the world are working from the grassroots to nurture smaller scale, ecological, local economies. We hear from a chorus of voices from six continents including Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of Tibet’s government in exile, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten and Zac Goldsmith. The Economics of Happiness restores our faith in humanity, and challenges us to believe that it is possible to build a better world.

Watch the trailer and visit the website for more details

Solar is Cost-Competitive with Nuclear: Report

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 24th, 2010

Source: Worldchanging

From “Scaling Up Solar: The Global Implications of a New Study that Says Solar Power Is Cost Competitive with Nuclear Power” by Olivia Boyd:

The sunshine of North Carolina, a state on America’s Atlantic seaboard, has long been a draw for tourists seeking a little southern warmth on the region’s beaches. But holiday companies are not the only ones trumpeting a good local deal. The price of the state’s solar-generated electricity has fallen so far that it is now cheaper than new nuclear power, according to a report published in July by researchers at the state’s Duke University. The authors say their figures indicate a “historic crossover” that significantly strengthens the case for investment in renewable energy – and weakens the arguments for large-scale, international nuclear development.

Solar power is usually branded as a clean but expensive energy source, incapable of competing on economic grounds with more established alternatives, such as nuclear. The outspoken pro-nuclear stance adopted by a raft of iconic environmental figures – James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, Patrick Moore – has helped to instill in policy making circles the sense that this is the only power source that can restructure our energy supply at the pace, scale and price required by the pressures of rapid climate change. This study, which was co-authored by former chair of Duke University’s economics department John Blackburn and commissioned by NC Warn, a clean-energy NGO with a firm anti-nuclear bent, challenges that view. “This report should end the argument for risking billions of public dollars on new nuclear projects,” says Jim Warren, NC Warn director.

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Searching for a Miracle: Report

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 7th, 2009

Source: PostCarbon Institute


In November, the Post Carbon Institute and the International Forum on Globalization released their important and challenging new report Searching for a Miracle. The report, authored by Post Carbon Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg and edited by Jerry Mander, explores the question of whether any combination of known energy sources can successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100?

The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.

The report makes the case that it is necessary to prepare societies for dramatic shifts in consumption and lifestyle expectations. It will also be necessary to promote a new ethic of conservation throughout the industrial world. A sharp reversal of today’s globalization of commercial activity—inherently wasteful for its transport energy needs—must be anticipated and facilitated, and government leaders must encourage a rapid evolution toward economies based on localism especially for essential needs such as food and energy.

The study remarks that this is not necessarily a negative prospect, as some research shows that, once basic human needs are met, high material consumption levels do not correlate with high quality of life.

The emphasis by policy makers on growth as the central goal and measure of modern economies is no longer practical or viable, as growth will be limited by both energy shortages and by society’s inability to continue venting energy production and consumption wastes (principally, carbon dioxide) into the environment without catastrophic consequences. Standards for economic success must shift from gross metrics of economic activity, to more direct assessments of human well-being, equity, and the health of the natural world.

Read the full article.

Climate-change affordability: Economic study

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on November 19th, 2009

Source: Environmental Research Web

Image: D Sharon Pruitt via flickr CC

From “Climate-change policy is affordable after allby Liz Kalaugher

Climate policy is cheaper than most economic studies have suggested. Indeed it is affordable without causing any disastrous effects on our economies. That’s according to Jeroen van den Bergh of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, and Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  “I wasn’t satisfied with the dominant economic approaches, notably cost-benefit analysis of climate policy,” van den Bergh told environmentalresearchweb. “In addition, I had the feeling that many important arguments, including very down-to-earth ones, were being left out of the debate on climate policy. I decided therefore to list all the relevant alternative perspectives on the cost of climate policy I could come up with in a single paper.”

Writing in Climatic Change, van den Bergh details twelve new angles on climate policy cost that haven’t received any attention so far. He believes that cost-benefit analysis isn’t appropriate for climate change policies as it’s hard to be certain about the costs of climate damage, to put a cost on the value of a human life, or to handle scenarios that have a small probability of taking place but would have a high impact, including irreversible changes such as a slow-down of the global thermohaline circulation, or the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.  The studies tend also to neglect the impact of climate change on human conflict, biodiversity, economic development and human populations. Cost-benefit analyses carried out to date have come up with a wide range of estimates for climate costs. Instead van den Bergh prefers to assess the cost of a reasonably safe climate policy.

“If it can be argued that a safe climate policy means considerably lower net costs than the absence of such a policy, it is rational to be in favour of such a policy,” he writes. “This represents a kind of cost-effectiveness combined with precaution, given the uncertainties involved, aimed at avoiding extreme damage costs due to climate change.”

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